Since my husband was diagnosed with cancer, people have treated us differently. It’s almost as if others think we’re delicate and could break at any minute. Many people have told me that I’m very strong and I’m handling this very well. I think people expect me to behave like a worried wife and be someone that I’m not.
Am I supposed to act differently now that my husband is sick? Should I quit school and work so I can sit at home and cry? What exactly would that accomplish? It’s not like me to behave like that. Just because my husband is sick doesn’t mean I’m a different person.
As a matter of fact, Mike hasn’t changed either. Yes, he’s weaker and more tired now. But he’s still the same person he’s always been. Several jaws dropped when Mike threatened to smack someone with his chemo pump. Apparently, it’s not OK to joke about cancer—even if you’re the one going through it.
Just because we’re dealing with a serious disease like cancer doesn’t mean that everything and everyone around us must be serious. If someone was sarcastic before, they’ll still be sarcastic after getting sick. Health changes don’t change your personality.
When Mike was in the hospital for the colon blockage, before she found out he had cancer, my sister wanted to ask him if the doctors found the gerbil yet. Afterward, she was afraid he would be offended. (He wasn’t; he thought it was hilarious.)
Making horrible tasteless jokes has always been my way—and Mike’s way—of coping. Maybe it seems cruel, but the other day, when Mike said, “I don’t like having cancer,” I laughed at him. I explained that no one actually wants to have cancer. No one wakes up in the morning and thinks cancer sounds like a lot of fun.
One of my coworkers, who has a similar sick sense of humor, wanted to get Mike a face mask, but everyone told her that was mean. Many people seem to forget that old saying: Laughter is the best medicine.
Everyone has their own way of dealing with adversity. Just because that way may be different than mine or Mike’s doesn’t mean the way we’re doing it is wrong.
Obviously, I’m worried. I don’t know what’s going to happen. But I’m dealing with it my way. I just don’t see how sitting around moping helps.
Even though we may joke, it doesn’t mean we’re making light of the situation. We are both fully aware of the seriousness of cancer. When necessary, we are capable of being serious. Most of the time, it’s easier to laugh at the situation.
Go ahead; make jokes at Mike’s expense. He won’t get offended; he’ll laugh along with you. If you want to offend him, treat him like he’s on his deathbed. We aren’t treating his sickness like it’s the end; it’s just a temporary road block. And we’re dealing with it the way that works best for us.
Originally published in issue 198, April 29, 2005